Inspirational Woman: Vicki Ashman | CEO, Scrumpies of Mayfair

Vicki Ashman featuredVicki Ashman was a senior partner in international law firm Walkers Global, managing the London and Dublin offices while juggling 6 children!

Her husband Ian was also a senior partner in the same company, and together they decided to take early retirement and escape the City, but quickly realised they missed business life.

After trying property development and rare diamond dealing, they set up their own luxury knicker brand, Scrumpies of Mayfair, and are now on track to turn over £3 million in 3 years.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I graduated with a history degree and purely by chance took a temporary job as a paralegal in a big City law firm. From there my interest in the law was sparked and I went to law school to qualify as a lawyer. My first jobs were working for so called ‘Magic Circle’ firms and an American law firm, all in the City. From there I moved to Walkers Global which is an international offshore firm with offices all over the world. With them I worked in Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, London and Dublin. In a hugely male-dominated partnership I became one of the two first female equity partners in the global firm and managing partner of the London and Dublin offices. When the firm sold part of the business, my husband Ian (who was also a senior partner in the business) and I were able to retire from the law.

We were delighted to finally be free of the ultra-high pressure world of corporate law but, as hard-wired business people, knew that we’d want to use our skills again albeit in a different arena. Therefore, while it came as a big shock to our friends, it was no surprise to us when, a few short years later, we became the proud co-founders of our own luxury knicker brand, Scrumpies of Mayfair. We design and manufacture a range of what we modestly call the world’s most beautiful knickers! Quite a change from being a corporate lawyer.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all. In fact, I went for the interview at Walkers as a favour to a friend who was head-hunting corporate lawyers for the firm. He asked me to go along to pad out his offering of quality candidates! I had no intention of taking the job. The course of my career was changed in the taxi ride on the way home from the interview. My chatty cockney cabbie harangued me across London telling me I’d be mad not to try working abroad. By the end of the journey he had me convinced!

Scrumpies came about when were in holiday in Greece, a few months post retirement when we got talking about, of all things, women’s knickers and the gap in the market between the boring pack of threes and the really intimidating lingerie that retails for crazy prices. We realised we had a great idea and we were also excited about the challenge of getting involved in an entirely new industry.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

That’s a big question! Being a working mother is certainly a challenge. Managing an office full of super ambitious alpha male lawyers wasn’t easy either. Challenges are what makes a job interesting.

Most can be worked through if you are able to keep some perspective and a sense of humour. It’s really important for women who become bosses to understand that people won’t necessarily like them. Making unpopular decisions sometimes comes with the territory.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

The week starts with an alarm that goes off at 5am. One of our daughters swims 6 days a week so, if it is my turn, I am out of bed and on the road by 5.10. Training starts at 5.30am. I’d like to say that this is a beautiful time and that the tranquillity and time for reflection sets me up for the day. Unfortunately, the reality is that it is an hour and a half shivering under a blanket in the carpark. By the time we get home at 7.30 am I feel that it should be lunchtime and I have that slightly spaced out feeling you have after a long haul flight. Luckily Ian and I have decided to upgrade our coffee pods so I’m able to reset myself with an excellent coffee.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

The people you work with, particularly early on in your career, are really important in your personal development. They show you what is expected and how to handle yourself. While they didn’t carry a formal title of ‘mentor’ I have had some excellent bosses over the years who took a real interest in my career and actively coached me. As a senior lawyer I had a lot of juniors that I directly supervised and mentored. One always takes an interest in the achievements of these colleagues as they progress their careers. It’s really important for women in particular to have advocates in an organisation because, regrettably, there are still likely to be more men in the most senior positions making the big decisions.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

I’d like people to stop talking about “women in the workplace”, like they don’t really belong, as if they are imposing on someone else’s territory. True equality will only be reached when we stop talking about “women’s rights in the workplace” and talk about “employee rights”. It should be possible to have an equitable and supportive employment infrastructure that supports the needs of everyone but which also operates as a meritocracy. In my experience, no-one respects an individual that has been promoted for any reasons other than talent and commitment, whatever their gender.

Do you have any advice for women looking to start their own business?

Take advice but be true to your vision. There is a balance between following advice and the well-trodden path and understanding that the market wants to see a new idea. Just because something hasn’t been done that way in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Things won’t always be perfect but as long as life is moving broadly in the right direction, that’s probably good enough.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Our nice children who love their parents.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We are in the process of launching Scrumpies’ knickers into new markets and this is really exciting in the development of the global brand. We also want to grow our organisation with the brilliantly talented individuals that have been on the Scrumpies’ journey with us so far. Therefore, in the future, we hope to see them with us and enjoying the ride. Our ultimate goal of course is to have multiple pairs of Scrumpies’ knickers in the knicker drawer of women all over the world!

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